Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Vintage School Collectibles

Good morning!

Kimmie from That Girl in the Wheelchair posed an interesting question to some fellow vintage bloggers and me in an email the other day:

Hey ladies-
I have a question. My sister teaches in a school that is really old and they have a lot of old desks, filing cabinets, globes etc (from the mid century likely). In the summer, they are demo'ing the school...and they are basically throwing a lot of it away. Because you all are salvage queens. I told her I would put my feelers out and find out what would be worth salvaging. If she finds anything good..she is gonna put her name on it. 

Oh my GOODNESS, oh my GOD. What an opportunity. And do I have a million opinions on this? I do. I got so excited I up and did a whole post on it. Folks, let's talk vintage school.

Vintage Flashcards Multiplication Tables Aged Paper Black Print Assemblage Supplies 1960s Lot of 10
My dad being a career teacher and lifelong picker, I grew up with tons of cast off school and industrial-style appointments in our house. In the early nineties', he had the opportunity to do a similar clean-out to Kimmie's sister's situation with another teacher at Isaac Litton High School, before it was demolished, instructed by his principal to "go out there and grab anything you think you could use". I don't think that principal, at the time, realized the streak of vintage hoarding that runs through my dad's side of the family (and right onto into the present generation, in the form of me!).

School Chart - Elementary School Poster - Mid Century - English - Industrial - Ideal School Supply Co. 
My imagination lights up like a pinball machine every time he tells the story of filing cabinets full of old service awards, typewriters in the typing class neatly put away with their dustcovers, library tables and clocks and roll down maps and manipulatives all here, there, and everywhere, waiting for a first day of school that was not coming. He said the spookiest part of picking the boarded-up building was a) opening a closet to find a full-sized model skeleton (which went to a science classroom at his then-home school, Highland Heights), and b) coming across a blackboard in one classroom upon which someone had neatly written the message, in chalk, "Time is not refundable". Whoooo! Spooky, right?

VINTAGE 1960s Women's Volleyball Trophy / Gold Metal on Wood Base / Athletic Achievement
They found sliderules and compasses and correction ribbon and the metal box the newspaper treasury was kept in (still in the black with $5.25, all in quarters). They found posters to teach fifties' teens about the importance of personal hygiene  flashcards in French, a couple dozen grosses of pencils still in their boxes. Carbon paper, and bunsen burners, and desks with storage under their fold up table tops. A framed letter from the then-governor of Tennessee commending a recent fifties' graduate's brave death in the service of his country had probably hung in the school's front hall at one point, but was placed in a storage cabinet with other awards to make room for a trophy display case. It was so insane that all these things were just being left. A closed down school is the very definition of a collectibles salvage situation-- go in, and save what you can!

Replogle 10 inch globe
Having melanine trays in the kitchen cupboards and those Heywood Wakefield school chairs in not only my run-down, inner city elementary school, but also in my childhood home, led me to have both a fondness and a certain immunity to vintage school collectibles as I became of an age where fellow pickers would be buying items along those lines. I remember the first time I saw a roll down map in a vintage-resale setting and casually looked at the price tag. What, five bucks? Twenty on the outside? Try $125. For a roll down map. Of which my dad had probably twenty in his classroom storage room and another five at the house. My jaw could have scraped the floor. Really? Was this stuff actually worth something? I mean, it was neat, duh, but I thought we were the only weirdos in the state with vintage classroom materials in a domestic setting. You mean it's fashionable?

Retro Rand McNally Asia Africa Middle East Pull Down Map 62" L x 54" W
Suddenly these type of chairs, which I swear were out on the concrete patch near the playground in my elementary school for the two PE teachers and the custodian to sit in, 365 days a year, until the color faded to a weird, pinkish bruise of a non-color, were at collectible stores with similar price tags to their actually-from-a-store counterparts. Granted, these in the picture come in an early seventies', Stevie-Wonder-album-cover color palette, but still!

Vintage Molded Plastic Chairs, Mid Century Modern Stacking School Chairs, Set of 4
Cognizant of these prices, I pulled together another number of things I thought Kimmie's sister might be smart to lay hands on. From my email:

Oooooh. What a neat opportunity! I'd say any kind of mid century atomic looking things would be winners. Card catalogs, old manipulatives or classroom decorations (times table, addition charts, etc for classroom use that are pre-1980's), steelcase desks, chairs... anything that looks like it came from the office set of Dragnet is just catnip for 21st century collectors. 

Vintage Pennant ROSLYN High SCHOOL Long Island NY big Bulldog logo antique felt
Check common storage rooms for old year books, textbooks, overhead projectors, radios, record players, and trophies (you would be surprised how many "50 year service awards" for teachers from like 1970 are collecting dust in the back of large metal cabinets because they needed wall space for sports awards). Typewriters!

Large Industrial Retro School Clock by Simplex
Mostly look for things that look neat, are obviously old, and don't weight 5,000 lbs (as much as I like steelcase desks, on second thought, they may prove to be the white elephant of fifties' furniture). It occurred to me, as I was typing this email, that honest to God, steelcase desks are like the very last thing to go at an estate sale. Right up there with ugly 90's console tv's, but not for lack of style. I think lots of people are into the desk, but the impracticality of moving this 1,000,000 pound furniture item that takes up a city block of interior decorating real estate is a real deciding factor for some people. As much as I love BIG pieces, they're not nearly as easy to sling around the house if the feeling moves you to change things up a bit.

Vintage Lockers Metal Industrial School Locker Storage Cabinet
Vintage School Locker Basket Gym Number Plate Wire Baskets
I feel like there are so many things that would be neat to have, it's almost hard to narrow it down! Yearbooks and school pictures are another thing I thought about. These wire gym baskets (above) are freaking awesome looking...we used to have them in the utility room of our old house (my current house) with extra power strips and extension cords and the like in them. Wouldn't they be pretty in a pantry with a bunch of bags of rice and beans in them?

Vintage school Photo of Massie School 1938
And science ANYTHING, right? If I had my way, there would be one room of my house set up like a 1930's laboratory. Why, because I have a secret interest in chemistry? No, ya dope, because it would LOOK. SO. COOL. I have just now learned that the zappy thing from James Whale's Frankenstein is called a "jacob's ladder", and that just googling "vintage laboratory equipment" is a treat. Kimmie's sister, find these things! Find 'em!

Vintage School Science pH Kit by La Motte
Last but not least, I had this exact classroom record player in high school, and it's still in the attic at my house (needle's busted, and it's such a weird one I don't think I can get another, but I can't get rid of it!). Best part about it is the "MARTHA VAUGHT MIDDLE SCHOOL" written in sharpie on two sides. Best part about it used to be the thundering sound you could get out of the box, and the fact that the speakers were built in. Le sigh. Maybe I'll get it back up and running some day!

Vintage Audiotronics 312T Transistor Classroom Record Player & Case
Ok, now it's your turn. If you got the same email above, what would you suggest for the vintage picker in picker's classroom paradise to try and nab before Rome burns? Any additional items that I missed? Do you have any cool vintage school items in your home? Let's talk!

That's all for today. I'm off to re-evaluate my home for a possible Frankenstein lab redecoration. Obviously. See you guys tomorrow!


  1. My elementary school in Memphis was built in 1912, so it had tall ceilings, HUGE windows, wood paneled cloakrooms, and wood stair railings, etc. It's still in use.

    There has to be someone in Nashville who can fix your record player!

    1. I bet that elementary school was GORGEOUS! It sure sounds it.

      I took it to Nicholson Electronics in 2005 or so, and they did replace the needle, but it never has sounded the same since then! I should have checked it out in the store. I don't think they're in their old location, but maybe I could track down another needle seller and see if they could do anything for me. Hope springs eternal! :)

  2. Yes, everything you mentioned! Globes are definitely big sellers, and I've sold some pennants and paper ephemera as well. Wish I was near that treasure hunt!

    1. I know! I love all this stuff. I have to stop myself from buying it in vintage bulk sometimes when I end up at a retired teacher's estate or moving sale.

  3. Overhead projectors and movie projectors...and of course the old instructional films to go with them! I'd kill for some of those!

    What's really strange, though, is seeing this stuff from the '50s and '60s and realizing that they used the same stuff in the '80s and '90s when I was in grade school!! I guess once something works, why change?

    1. Me, too! Sometimes I wonder if all the worn out, old stuff we were around as kids makes us so comfortable with the era!

  4. OMIGOD! That vintage record player! I think my first grade class had one like that....we played it with film strips I think. My sister also moved into an old house that previously belonged to a 90 year old woman and found a 1970s bowling trophy. I implored her not to throw it out.

    The school system is so weird about letting them take things, but I tell you they are sitting on a gold mine. She is hoping to grab a couple (at least the smaller items) simply because of their historical value.

    This was super informative, btw. I knew you ladies wouldn't fail me.

    1. Also? CARD CATALOGS!

      Kimmie, do you mind telling us what school system she works for? Government entities are required to go through a tedious process of "surplussing" un-needed items, and then the stuff goes to the local government auction. Trust me, we do it where I work once a year, and surplus day stinks.

      The point is, if we know where to look, and when, then we could hit that government auction HARD and score all the best stuff!!!

    2. She said they weren't too keen on people removing things but she didn't want things of value to be tossed. Closer to summer break I'll know more about if a govt auction will be held

  5. When I was in my early 20's my boyfriend lived next to an abandoned school and we would go "treasure hunting" (AKA trespassing) there. We had tons of beakers and test tubes. There were store rooms full of text books and the library was still full of books. It was ridiculous. I remember one of my favorite finds was a composition book with green paper!

    1. So cool! SO COOL. Isn't it insane how old schools have piles of that stuff just "left"? There was an abandoned school next to Madison Library in the early 2000's that my friends and I would try to get into. I think I still have a fifties' sign with measurements (a bushel, a peck, etc!) from one of those outings. Eventually, some homeless people camped in it and accidentally burned it down. Nothing gold can stay!

  6. Helllloooo! I worked on a roofing crew a couple of years ago between nursing jobs. It was great! We put a new roof on a 1930's three-story high school. I learned some skills, let me tell you! I learned how to install metal roofing, climb a non OSHA approved jury-rigged ladder, and spit without dribbling down my chin. (Squeeze buttocks together tightly, throw back shoulders) There was a lot for the picking...and the best of all was the prop closet from the theatrical department. I found vintage clothing by the rack and bale..

    1. You are a renaissance woman, Mrs. Leapheart! Add roofing (and spitting) to your list of accomplishments, that sounds like a doozy of a summer job. Can't believe the costume department thing. GOLD. MINE. I bet you were in seventh heaven!

  7. Speaking as one of those old, worn out things...har har...I used to watch Driver's Ed films from back in the 1950's that my MOTHER watched. The D.E. teacher was a gunner on a B17 during WWII. He taught an entire town and their children and children's children how to drive defensively. Props to YOU, Mr Dehon! I still stop on a dime when I see a ball roll into the street!!!

    1. Your neighborhood is safe from witless youth...see, I didn't have Mr. Dehon, and I swear, the ragtag gang of elementary school age kids that play touch football, AT NIGHT, WEARING BLACK CLOTHING, in the MIDDLE OF THE STREET at the end of my road are in perpetual danger for their lives. And yet, the children sullenly stare on with nonplussed defiance every time I manage to careen the car around their motionless forms! It's enough to drive a gal batty.

      My dad used to talk about a drivers' ed movie they had to watch with car crashes and the aftermath in the mid seventies'. What were they trying to do to you guys?

    2. They were trying to teach us consequences! These were old, old films that started off with the logo of the Missouri Highway Patrol..We would sit in out desks with delicious anticipation, because we KNEW (through the jaded chatter of prior Sophomores) what was coming. Beheadings! Bloody steering columns! Bodies strewn across the road! Railroad crossing mayhem! Mr. Dehon had edited some of the worst scenes out with a pair of scissors and scotch tape, but I'll assure you, I remember enough.

  8. Gah...i love school stuff so much. Great ideas on what to snag! I just got a teacher's/lab desk while home with my folks . Mister Kitsch could TOTALLY help you with that record player if you ever want to get it going again. He knows just where to go, etc. One of his first gifts to me was a very similar record player. : )

    1. Oh yes! I will have to ask you and the Mister for advice on it then, because I have totally the wrong needle in it right now (see my comment to Sarah above). I can't wait to see your lab desk, does it have one of those wooden legs and body with this heavy, obsidian black something-composite top to it? We used to have those at my one middle school, and the surfaces were so riddled with CARVED graffiti that you couldn't write on a piece of paper without something under it.



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...